Mid-Life Crisis – of Faith

Mid-Life Crisis – of Faith November 22, 2019

Mid-life throws us some mean curves. We expect certain losses: our parents passing away, our kids moving on, our bodies changing. It’s the ones we least expect that sometimes catapult us into crisis.

As we sat listening to the sermon, my husband and I gripped each other’s hands and fought back tears. The time had come for him to resign. Though we had seen this on the horizon, the realization gutted us.

After fifteen years of service to our church, he packed up his office and we said a tearful goodbye to the congregation. You lose a lot more than a paycheck when you terminate employment with a church. We were now without a community, without the surrogate aunts and uncles who had loved on our kids, and without a context to serve.

These were not our only losses.

Three days prior to that pivotal Sunday, we buried my mother-in-law. She died in her mid-seventies after a lightening quick battle with pancreatic cancer. Within the next few months, my father and two other close relatives were also diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, our eldest son was moving on. He married young and started a new life 1,500 miles away. Launching a child is obviously not the same as losing a parent, but in both situations, the sudden absence of someone who is deeply loved creates a gaping hole. 

A Lost Connection

And then there was the toll on our spiritual lives. Prior to that autumn, my husband and I had a rich, dialogical relationship with God. We sensed his nearness and depended on our ongoing conversations. In this season, it was as if we lost our Wi-Fi connection mid sentence. Perhaps our doubt and confusion became like static, drowning out God’s voice. Perhaps our sorrow rendered us deaf. 

Both of us had been faithfully following Jesus for more than thirty years. We’d been on this journey long enough to know that shaking our fists at God and demanding an explanation would be counterproductive. Why? was not the right question. We didn’t blame God for the circumstances we found ourselves in but we did wonder why He chose not to intervene on our behalf.

Because our intense need to understand what happened coincided with feeling disconnected from God, we felt bereft and insecure. Lacking God’s input, we tormented ourselves by second-guessing everything. Our wheels spun out in regret. After months of meta-processing, we shut-down emotionally and went into survival mode. We got up and robotically went through our days in numb efficiency.

Coming Full Circle—Almost

That was seven years ago. We’re certainly not the first to go through what others have called a dark night of the soul. (And it’s never just a night. If we could trust the coming dawn, it wouldn’t feel so dark.) After eighty-four months of wandering, we’ve finally found a church that feels like home. Our hearts are no longer guarded though certain situations still trigger irrational responses.

Prayer has never returned to what it had been. One of the main lessons we learned through this crisis is that having integrity doesn’t spare us from suffering. Righteous living has definite merits and can protect us from some some, but not all pain and loss. This feels unjust and disquieting. I’m now much more aware of life’s fragility and how foolish it is to believe that we can somehow manipulate God to bless and protect us because we’re following the rules.

I’ve never ascribed to the philosophy that health and wealth are evidence of God’s blessing. There’s an awful lot of ungodly men and women out there swimming in wealth while the righteous beg for bread and healing. I began to wonder; how much of my prayer life had been focused on my desire to be spared from pain and loss rather than seeking deeper intimacy with Jesus? And how might this crisis transform how I approached prayer?

Are times when God’s seeming silence is actually an indication of his trust in us? Is God walking us to the school bus stop, giving us a kiss, and saying, “Have a good day. You’ll do fine,” knowing that though we’ll feel moments of insecurity, we will, in fact, do just fine. Is this what it means to grow up?

Aging invites us to become comfortable with paradox: to acknowledge and accept that though we’re growing in wisdom, there’s so much we don’t know. One of the most seminal lessons of midlife is that the opposite of loss is not gain but discovery. For it was only after we were baptized in pain that we became aware of the depth of our courage and resolve. As our season of suffering draws to a close, we’ve come to believe that life isn’t either or—but both and.

 Photo credit: ©Dorothy Greco

About Dorothy Greco
Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days making photographs and stringing words together. She is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful and the forthcoming Marriage in the Middle (InterVarsity Press, 2020). She lives outside of Boston with her husband of 28 years. You can read more about the author here.

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  • Chris Dagostino

    This hits home. I lost my Mom to the same kind of cancer this past February. She had an extremely abusive upbringing, and there are a hell of a lot more people in this world who “deserved” it more than she did. It’s just one of the reasons why I’m looking back on my faith-walk, such as it is, and wondering if it’s worth it. For the time being, the answer is a resounding no. Here’s to hoping we find our way.

  • Chris, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope that somehow in this season you feel God’s nearness and he brings deep comfort. Finding our way is no easy thing when we’re facing profound loss and unanswered questions. I hope you have a few close friends who can pull up a chair and listen well. (I think that’s part of what got me through!) Thanks for reading.

  • Newton Finn

    Your words touched me and resonated. For what it’s worth, something that has helped me through my own “dark nights” is an observation made by Albert Schweitzer concerning the young men he mentored before he left for Africa and WWI began. While later talking to some of these young men, who’d been in the trenches of that infernal conflict, they told him that the only thing that allowed them to retain a connection to Christianity was Schweitzer’s admonition that that it does not and should not try to explain everything–that the heart of the faith is ethical, the bringing of the Kingdom of God to earth, not explanatory in any comprehensive metaphysical sense. For those unfamiliar with Schweitzer’s unorthodox yet profoundly devout theology, here’s a brief intro:

    https://newtonfinn.com/2017/12/18/two-rivers-one-spirit/

  • rationalobservations?

    The third largest and fastest growing human demographic are the godless/non religious. The scam of religion is rapidly becoming ever more rapidly recognised and the most peaceful nations are also the least religious proving that no one needs religion to be good and charitable members of our recently evolved species of ape.

    As you grow to recognise the futility and anti-humanitarian nature of all fraudulent religions and the nonexistence of all the millions of undetected and undetectable entirely imaginary gods goddesses and god-men, you may come to value your short and exclusive life and the meaningful nature of life all the more since that is all there is.

    Good luck with your transition from indoctrinated delusion to rationality and humanitarianism.

    Live, love, value your fellow creatures and do some good and no harm.

  • rationalobservations?

    No one should need any fraudulent religion to be ethical and charitable. The most peaceful nations today are the least religious free secular democracies of the world and the third largest and fastest growing human demographic of the godless/non religious demonstrate each day that we don’t need fraudulent and exclusively self serving religion to be good and productive citizens.

    If you need a confused and internally contradictory historically unsupported scientifically absurd bible or a oily tongued preacher’s dishonest interpretation of one version of bible – to be good, you lack conscience, not religion.

  • silicon28

    Why show up on a comment thread about faith, by a person of faith, written to other people who share that faith, just to thumb your nose at what people believe? So you don’t share our belief? OK, your choice and no one is going to try to change your mind. But what you are doing is nothing more than being a paradigmatic example of the trolling behavior that continues to turn the Internet into a cesspool. No one invites your arguments, they don’t speak to the subject or the context, so you’ve just proven not only that you can be ignored; but also that you SHOULD be ignored.

  • silicon28

    Good words and well spoken. I’m curious and while I don’t mean to pry – and will certainly understand if you choose not to say more – why was there the clear understanding that it was time to resign? Many of us have been through that same decision – always hard for many of the reasons you say – but ultimately looking back even those “dark nights” have been a tempering / growing experience. Thanks for what you have shared.